The Kinesthetic (Hands-On) Classroom Essay

Helping Children Learn

February 5, 2020

Before I ever knew the word kinesthetic, I loved the old fashion projects like dioramas and making Valentine’s mailboxes out of a tissue box. Christmas was the best, making ornaments out of aluminum foil, nativity scenes with felt, and candles from toilet tissue rolls.

As a child growing up in the 1960s most of the hands-on activities at school were made during the holidays like Christmas, President’s Day, Valentine’s Day, or Mother’s Day.

When I was a young teacher in the 1980s I longed to make my classroom more active and fun, but still, be a learning experience. Every now and then I would tell my class, “today we are going to do something different” and I would create what is now called a Writing Center.

By gathering construction paper, old cards, card stock, markers, stamps, and other things, I would challenge my students to make special stationery, a card, or just write a letter and decorate it. They loved it and most products were usually done well.

During the 1990s things began to change in the classrooms, there were more learning problems, more hyperactivity, less focus. Now the trend was to find what worked for the student having the difficulty.

During that time, I was asked to tutor a young girl after school and in the summer to help her learn her multiplication tables. She would know them one day and then forget them the next day. I was patient and kind when I was helping her, but I was frustrated that she was not retaining them. I thought she was probably a bit slow and may not be a good learner. She continued to struggle on and off in school and I always wondered what was wrong with her.

Years later I heard this young lady had gone on to be a journalist and then a teacher. I was flabbergasted. She is still teaching with a master’s degree and is an amazing young woman.

How did I get it so wrong? I began to realize that struggling in the classroom did not mean a child was slow or special needs. In her case memorization was not her strength or learning style and she probably discovered more about herself and how she learned best.

Sometime later this experience lead me to try new methods of teaching. I began to use games to introduce new math concepts, for spelling I took the kids to the computer lab to use Spelling City to play games and at the end of the week, take their assessments. It was a hit and a great way to have fun while learning. I thought I was on to something and began hands-on research for new approaches to learning. Centers were getting popular and I found that they were fun, but a lot of work on the teacher’s end. The kids loved them but I did not. Was there a simpler way? Did I have to follow the most popular author’s way of doing things? I thought if I was going to be truly successful I had to follow the rules and directions that the experts declared. Soon, I was burned out.

I realized that what I had already been doing (for a long time) was fun and kinesthetic learning. Students played math games, created a reader’s theater performance with masks, and went on an adventure through the underground railroad. I was already doing hands-on activities without centers.

Today, I do use centers from time to time, but only when it works for me. It may depend on the grade I’m teaching or the number of kids in my class. What is important is bringing the learning to life so it sticks.

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